Gaza: Israel under fire for alleged white phosphorus use
On Tuesday, the Israeli army denied using white phosphorus munitions. A Norwegian doctor claims Israel is using Gaza as a 'test laboratory for new weapons,' including Dense Inert Metal Explosives, or DIME.
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Italian scientists from the New Weapons Research Committee, which examines emerging military technology, said in a statement that "evidence is mounting" of DIME usage, saying the wounds may be "untreatable" due to metals like tungsten that enter the body. DIME is packed with tungsten dust that forms micro-shrapnel upon detonation.Skip to next paragraph
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Paola Manduca, a geneticist at the University of Genoa, says she has seen "four photos from Gaza hospitals since December that look like the effects of DIME. We want to stress as professionals that we need to be able to verify what is happening, and we can't do that if Gaza is blocked."
But Israeli experts deny any such usage of DIME by the IDF in Gaza. Shlomo Brom, former brigadier general who consulted international legal experts on weapons use as head of the IDF's Strategic Planning division, derided human rights groups' allegations on white phosphorus and DIME as political propaganda.
"The weapons itself are not illegal. Whether they are used in keeping with international law is a matter of interpretation. To judge you need all of the operational considerations and intelligence available. Of course, they don't have it, so they are playing a very irresponsible role," he says.
During the Lebanon war in 2006, Israel was suspected of employing depleted uranium munitions as well as DIME. The Israeli military has also used cluster bombs and phosphorous munitions in its previous battles in Lebanon.
It was heavily criticized by human rights groups for firing both kinds of munitions into the densely populated streets of west Beirut during the siege of the city in the summer of 1982.
In the 1990s, when Israeli troops occupied a border strip of South Lebanon, the distinctive cotton ball puffs of brilliant white smoke from exploding phosphorous rounds were a common sight in frontline areas. The Israelis used phosphorous to burn crops in frontline villages and to destroy ground cover used by Hezbollah fighters to infiltrate the occupation zone.
In August 1997, five Israeli soldiers burned to death during a battle with Lebanese guerrillas when they were trapped in a frontline valley by a brush fire ignited by phosphorous rounds fired by their own artillery.
HRW reported in 1996 that phosphorous shells fired by Israel had struck populated areas, causing civilian casualties, during a week-long Israeli air and artillery blitz in South Lebanon in July 1993. At the time of the 1993 attack, Maj. Gen. Herzl Bodinger, commander of the Israeli Air Force, was quoted by Israel's Yedioth Ahranot as saying: "We do not use such bombs."
But in 1994, the US State Department reported that there were "credible accounts of IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] use of phosphorous shells against military and civilians targets" in South Lebanon.
Other controversial armaments used by Israel in Lebanon included antipersonnel "flechette" rounds fired by tanks. The round is designed to explode in the air, showering the target with 5,000 three-centimeter-long steel darts in a cone-shaped trajectory some 900 feet long.
The United Nations recorded many instances of "flechette" rounds being used in South Lebanon in the 1990s in which civilians were killed or wounded.
Whether Israel is using white phosphorus illegally or not in its latest war against Islamist militants in Gaza, the issue may be gaining too much focus, says Garlasco from HRW, and could be "a red herring."
"While it is important to pay attention to these weapons, the majority of Gazans are being killed by typical military operations. I am a scholar and I use words carefully, and this seems like a massacre."